Much has been written about on the recent episode where India Today and the Times of India published alerts from the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) on five Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives having infiltrated their way into Mumbai. That same day, Pakistan’s TV channels and news media revealed, with barely-concealed delight, that these individuals were in fact in Lahore, not India, and that they were ordinary tradesmen, and not Lashkar terrorists. On the face of it, our intelligence agencies goofed up. Over at Acorn, my colleague Nitin Pai examines possible explanations in this excellent blogpost.
During a daily customary review of Pakistan’s Urdu media, I came across this article in Roznama Ummat that I found intriguing. An excerpt from the Ummat’s interview of Mehtab Butt, Atif Butt and Babar Shabbir — three of the five who had allegedly entered Mumbai — follows:
The most concerning aspect of India labeling the three Pakistanis as terrorists is, how India came to be in the possession of their photographs in the first place. In conversation with Ummat, Mehtab Butt indicated that he was perplexed as to how his photographs came to be in the hands of the Indians. In response to a question about whether he had uploaded his photo onto Facebook, Twitter or similar social networking websites, Mr. Butt said that he had never operated a computer. Mr. Butt said that the shirt that he was wearing as displayed in the photo on the Indian channel (sic) India Today was purchased last year.
Atif Butt said that while he had opened a Facebook account for himself, he had stopped using the account after his engagement; however, he recollects having never uploaded the photo shown on the Indian channels to Facebook. He remembers though, that the half-sleeved shirt displayed in the photo had been purchased last summer.
All three victims are of the opinion that a powerful camera was used to zoom in and take photos of them at Hafiz Center. Both Atif and Mehtab were working at their shops at Hafiz Center when a mutual friend of theirs arrived at about 8:00pm on Wednesday with his laptop. He showed Atif and Mehtab photos of themselves appearing on the India Today website. At first, they dismissed the photos as a prank, but the grim reality of the situation ultimately dawned on them.
The three then promptly approached local police and advised them of the situation. According to Mehtab and Atif, they took this step to ensure that they didn’t get apprehended on false charges. Mehtab Butt informed Ummat that both he and Atif were under considerable stress. Atif was of the opinion that had he and Mehtab not approached the police, there would be no doubt that the three victims would have been declared terrorists, similar to the “so-called” Mumbai terror attacks.
The three victims told Ummat that not only is India insulting our country, they have now turned their attention towards harming the Pakistani trading community. Their question to Pakistan’s leaders is, why are we expanding our trade relations with India? They appeal to the government to get to the bottom of this and respond to India’s imprudent actions. [روزنامہ امّت]
That this was an IO exercise against India is pretty apparent by the narrative. Two innocent traders and an honest security guard in Lahore being ensnared by the Serpent Next Door triggers the imagination. But why traders, why not anyone else? The last paragraph appears to offer some clues.
There is disquiet in parts of Pakistan’s trading community over liberalizing trade with India. Though many remain skeptical, most are not opposed to it, given the obvious benefits from trade with India. But the one group that has remained steadfastly opposed to engagement with India on trade and the MFN status has been Difa-e-Pakistan, a rag-tag collection of ex-army officers and jihadi nutjobs supported by Rawalpindi, that boasts within its ranks a who’s who of the military-jihadi complex, including God’s Servant Hafiz Saeed, and the always-humble Hamid Gul.
Hard-line elements in Pakistan certainly have motive, by both impressing upon the Pakistani trading community that thy neighbor is deceitful, and embarrassing India and its intelligence agencies. But the elaborate plot does not appear to be commensurate with the benefits of getting Pakistan to abrogate from bilateral trade commitments with India. The juice wouldn’t be worth the squeeze. This may very well be part of the plot, but is there a larger game afoot?